- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:

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TURNPIKE FEES RISING WHILE COMMISSION ERASES $5M IN UNPAID TOLLS, Nov. 8

In January, tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike increased 6 percent, and next year, also in January, tolls will increase another 6 percent.

Motorists have been paying steadily rising tolls since Act 44 was passed in 2007. That measure required the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to make yearly payments of $450 million to PennDOT, which would use the funds for nontolled roads and public transportation.

To afford the payments, the commission devised a multi-year rate hike on those who use the turnpike.

Although drivers grumble about the prices they must pay to travel the east-west, 550-mile corridor, they seem resigned that rate hikes are a fact of life.

It’s also a fact that some people, and businesses, will try to get away without paying to use the toll road.

A recent story in The Tribune-Democrat explained that the turnpike commission wrote off $5.4 million in uncollectible tolls in 2015.

When the agency’s fiscal year ended on May 31, the balance in unpaid tolls and fees totaled $49 million.

That amount may be significantly less because an administrative penalty of $35 has been added to each violation and the commission assumes that each violator has entered the toll road at the farthest point from his or her direction of travel.

So, tolls keep spiraling upward for turnpike users, but the commission feels justified in clearing more than $5 million from its books as uncollectible tolls?

Carl DeFabo, turnpike spokesman, said most of the $49 million will be reimbursed because the majority of violators were motorists who mistakenly drove through an E-ZPass exit without being in possession of the electronic E-ZPass transponder.

DeFabo said the commission has identified 24 commercial firms as its worst offenders. One of those haulers is Green Coast Logistics, based in South Plainfield, New Jersey. Its drivers have committed more than 7,600 violations, resulting in a debt to the commission of more than $678,000.

It is unthinkable to us that a company would knowingly rack up that much money in unpaid tolls, especially after being identified as one of the worst repeat offenders.

Green Coast Logistics was one of 10 New Jersey-based firms on the list of scofflaws. Eight firms are registered in Pennsylvania and the remainder have operations in Virginia, Ohio, Illinois and Arizona, DeFabo said.

The commission has asked the Legislature for help. It is hoping that lawmakers will pass a measure allowing the state to revoke vehicle registrations for violators. The only drawback to that plan is that it would only affect vehicles registered in Pennsylvania.

With constant advancements in technology, one would think that a computer program could be written that would alert the commission when a violator got on the turnpike. Police units could then be dispatched to impound the vehicle until the penalties were paid.

Another avenue the commission might want to travel is to make it mandatory that E-ZPass holders choose the auto-replenishment option.

That choice automatically restores an E-ZPass account balance when the total drops below a set dollar amount. The funds are withdrawn from the user’s bank account.

We’re hopeful that shame and humiliation will force the errant firms and individuals to settle their debts.

- The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat

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SHAKESPEARE’S PAL: THE ROLE OF MARLOWE ONLY DEEPENS THE PLOT, Nov. 8

For hundreds of years, William Shakespeare has been on the business end of whispering campaigns calling into question the authorship of many of his most famous plays. Being dead for half a millennium has put the Bard in the awkward position of not being able to forcefully contest these theories.

One name that consistently comes up as someone whose handiwork can be detected in plays traditionally attributed to Shakespeare is Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan playwright. While the theories that Marlowe (or anyone else) was the sole author of any of Shakespeare’s plays have been mostly debunked, there’s a good reason that his name keeps resurfacing: he and the Bard collaborated on at least three plays.

In fact, Shakespeare is believed to have collaborated with many other writers of the Elizabethan era, as well. According to an international committee of 23 distinguished Shakespeare scholars, a computer-assisted analysis of recurring phrases and language points to the likelihood that Marlowe should be credited as co-writer of at least the three Henry VI plays now attributed solely to Shakespeare.

That’s why the latest edition of “The New Oxford Shakespeare” lists their names jointly on the title pages of Parts One, Two and Three of “Henry VI” for the first time.

There’s much excitement in the academic world about this because it represents an honest acknowledgment of irrefutable scholarship and textual analysis.

This move also makes it possible to assess the 17 Shakespeare plays that are believed to be the result of uncredited collaborations, whether with Marlowe or other writers. A more realistic understanding of Shakespeare’s output and work process will only deepen our respect for the most influential writer of the last 500 years - not lessen it.

- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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STATE AIMS FOR 20TH CENTURY, Nov. 5

Pennsylvania leaped boldly into the mid-20th century this week when Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law that, 60 days hence, will allow retail beer distributors to sell six-packs rather than cases alone. Or, perhaps it was the 17th century or so, since the same new law provides for seasonal farm markets to sell mead, the ancient drink of fermented honey.

But, given Pennsylvania’s archaic and convoluted laws covering alcoholic beverage sales, any progress is welcome. And allowing retail distributors to sell six-packs rather than cases alone actually might benefit consumers.

Because of the explosion of craft brewing, this truly is a golden age for beer. Yet Pennsylvanians who wish to sample the infinite variety would have to do so by the expensive case if shopping at a retail distributor. Most do that sampling at supermarkets or convenience stores, some of which have been allowed to sell beer for the last several years under another bizarre set of legal restrictions. But, for that “convenience” as defined in Pennsylvania, consumers often pay markups well beyond those of the case prices charged by retail distributors.

Allowing those distributors to sell beer in smaller quantities will create some badly needed competition and, potentially, some downward pressure on retail prices at markets as those outlets strive to keep their market shares.

That almost is how the market should work. But beer sales remain tangled in complicated restrictions in the law that flow from legislators appeasing special interests over the years.

To better serve consumers, the state should drop those restrictions, such as the nonsensical requirement that a market can sell beer to go only if it has a facility in which people can dine.

And then, of course, there is the 1930s-style state government monopoly over wholesale and retail wine and liquor sales. The state has authorized some wine sales at supermarkets, but that will not break the monopoly because every participating market will have to use the same wholesaler - the state government.

But lawmakers are talking about a private, 21st-century system. If that progresses at the same rate as the beer-sale improvements, expect something around the time that the first humans set foot on Mars.

- The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

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WRITE-IN VOTING HAS ITS RIGHTS AND WRONGS, Nov. 7

You’re disenchanted, disaffected. You’re fed up with the whole process. You can’t bring yourself to pull the lever for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. So you’ve decided to tweak the nose of the establishment -you will write in the name of someone else.

Maybe you’ve considered writing in someone from, say, the pool of Democratic or Republican primary candidates. Or, one of the vice presidential candidates. Or, your neighbor’s cat.

Election officials have seen it all, including creative choices for leader of the free world - Frank N. Stein, Jim Nasium, and the always popular Seymour Butts.

There are a couple of things you should know.

First of all, the only people you’re punishing by writing in a novelty name or statement (many of which are unfit to print, though you can use your imagination) are the hardworking folks at the Board of Elections, who have to go through these names to get an accurate count and post the numbers on their website. Even in an off-year election, they receive thousands of write-in votes. The joke names and statements don’t get counted.

Second, when you vote - write-in or otherwise - you’re really voting for “presidential electors,” the people who represent and have pledged to vote for the candidate at the electoral college. Each state carries a certain number of electoral votes. The candidate who receives the majority of those votes, 270 or more, wins the presidency.

The Pennsylvania Department of State developed an administrative process through which a write-in candidate for president can certify with the commonwealth up to 20 hand-picked names for the office of presidential elector. These are the folks who will represent the candidate at the electoral college.

But the candidate has to submit these names in advance. If he or she has not done that, you’re simply voting for the candidate as one of the 20 presidential electors. In other words, if the candidate hasn’t gone through the proper procedure, you’re not really voting for him for president.

Here endeth the civics lesson.

In Pennsylvania, 35 individuals are on the Department of State’s list of write-in candidates for president. The only possibly familiar candidate - and the only one who has gone through the state’s procedure - is Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent who is waging a national write-in campaign. McMullin has been focusing on Utah, his home state, where polls had him running second behind Trump and ahead of Clinton as recently as last week.

Write-in rules vary from state to state. Most states require a candidate to fill out paperwork or at least notify them. There are a handful of states that don’t allow write-in voting.

Most write-in campaigns barely leave a trace. But there are exceptions.

In 2010, Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska became the first successful write-in candidate for U.S. senate in 50 years.

This presidential election has triggered more interest than normal in the write-in process. According to Google data, online searches of the words “write in” skyrocketed some 2,800 percent during October - a glaring indication that voters are desperate for an alternative.

Write-in votes are, by their very nature, protest votes: a thumbing of the nose at the system, and/or the candidates on the ballot.

And that is certainly your prerogative. But you only get one vote for president, so you might as well make it count. It’s unlikely that Alec Tricity or Amanda Hugginkiss have registered with the state.

Besides, years from now, your children, or their children, might ask you about Election Day 2016, and the part you played in history.

“Who did you vote for?”

Think about how it will sound if you reply, “Chris P. Bacon.”

- LNP

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DEMAND FOR FRACKING MORATORIUM HAS MERIT, Nov. 3

For years, the primary focus of Pennsylvania’s fracking conversation has been upon taxes.

It’s well-chronicled that Pennsylvania remains the only state not to impose a natural-gas extraction tax, and many have long - and thus far unsuccessfully - argued that a larger levy on drilling companies would work revenue-generating wonders for a state that perpetually struggles to balance its budget. Gov. Tom Wolf again pushed that case in February, when he proposed a 6.5 percent extraction tax on Marcellus shale drillers.

Thus far, state Republicans have steadfastly refused to consider the issue, citing an impact fee that drilling companies already pay.

But it may be time for Pennsylvania to permanently shift the fracking conversation away from fees and toward the risks associated with the process.

Fracking, the common term for hydraulic fracturing, is the high-pressure injection of a fluid, usually water thickened by sand or other agents, into a well bore. The pressurized fluid cracks deep-rock formations, freeing petroleum or natural gas, which then is extracted.

Here’s the thing: Reams of evidence and research now speak to the procedure’s inherent dangers.

Fracking foes have long insisted that the process damages drinking water. In June 2015, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a report that at least partially backed those allegations. The EPA said fracking has contaminated U.S. drinking water, but qualified its finding by saying there were no widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.

We now know with certainty, thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey and others, that the subsurface injection of fracking wastewater is a prime factor in the worrisome spike of earthquakes in the central and eastern United States. Oklahoma is the country’s chief example; a September Forbes article was headlined, “Thanks To Fracking, Earthquake Hazards In Parts Of Oklahoma Now Comparable To California.” We needn’t say more.

There are other potential risks, including but not limited to air pollution, toxic-chemical exposure and infrastructure degradation.

All of which plays into the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s recent resolution calling for a moratorium on any new Marcellus shale drilling and fracking.

“We do support a moratorium at this point because of questions that have been raised,” said society President Dr. Charles Cutler. “Those questions now point to the need for a registry and more science and research to give us a better understanding about whether fracking is safe and what the risk is.”

We back the medical society’s call for the moratorium on new drilling, a public-health registry and a full-scale state study of fracking’s environmental and health impacts. We do so fully realizing how unrealistic the moratorium is; political ties, revenue streams and potential new jobs are all hurdles our lawmakers are unlikely to clear en route to a new-drilling cessation.

But Pennsylvanians’ lives and the long-term health of our land may be at stake.

So we hope this will be one of those too-rare occasions when political courage for the public good trumps politics as usual.

- The Reading Eagle

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